Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mary and Martha

I think, for me, one of the biggest hallmarks of Luke's Gospel stories is not just the prominence of women; it's the prominence of dichotomy.  There are those who are cast as good guys, and those who are cast as bad guys, and it is clear (at least we hope it is clear!) to the reader which is which.

In today's Gospel lesson, you have Jesus on foot--again--and arriving at the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha is dutifully doing all the things a good hostess is supposed to do.  Meanwhile, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Fed up, Martha asks Jesus to please tell Mary to get up off the floor and help her out in the kitchen.  Instead, Jesus gently rebukes Martha:

 "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

This story has been used, and I think this is a correct way to use it, to say that we (the people) are worried and distracted as well.  There aren't a whole of "Marys" in the world who are OK with just 'being' as opposed to always 'doing.'   I certainly fall into the Martha camp: just ask anyone who has ever been my spiritual mentor or director!  I can come up with more things "to do" to keep me from "being" than just about anyone.

When I recently read, "The Cloud of Unknowing," one of the things that struck me was that our anonymous author who held up the virtues of "being" used this story as analogy for the Church at that time in the 13th-14th century.   The struggle that existed between those who insisted on a more learned, concrete, scholastic and methodical approach to theology were butting heads with those who appreciated the stillness, the meditative, more experiental practices that informed their theology.  "Doing" was becoming more valued than "being" and I believe this is STILL true today in the post-modern church.  I also think the commitment to so much "doing" has led to an unfortunate divorce between the reasons why we do what we do.  We are no longer taking the moments to pause and absorb how present and real God is in and among us every day.   As a result, to borrow from another Gospel, a lot of what the church "does" has lost its flavor.   Time to get back to the spice rack.

At the same time, we shouldn't diss the doers.  They have a function.  Sitting back and listening to Jesus is great, but if that's all it's going to be, then the "being" has not spread anywhere.   One must "be" and "do" which is why the break down is so unfortunate, and the casting of good guys and bad guys in this particular Gospel story is not helpful.

I have been reading, "My Stroke of Insight," by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.  In the book, she talks about the brain, and how our brains two hemispheres, left and right, function very much like an anatomical Martha and Mary.  The left hemisphere has all the "book-learning" power and linear thinking; the right hemisphere processes bits and pixels and is much more at one with all things.   We aren't aware of it, but we depend on BOTH hemispheres.  What Dr. Taylor argues is that we have given too much credit to our left, and we need to develop a better relationship with our right.  I agree.  And this gets to the value of practices of stillness, and centering.

I somehow doubt anyone will be preaching a sermon on those concepts today.  But if I were in a pulpit, that is what I would be encouraging: more reflection, more slowing down, more taking in God through other senses and at other times in the day and the week.

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